Discussing Bryan Caplan's Common-sense Case for Pacifism


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Since the dawn of man, human beings have slain beasts in order to survive. Our ancient ancestors cooperated well, and solely focused on survival. As Time went by, humans began to turn on each other and created an act of violence known as war. Even today, war persists, and it does not seem like the loss of human lives will stop anytime soon. Many argue, in fact, that sometimes war is justifiable and absolutely necessary. Others disagree and turn to the idea of pacifism for potential solution to ending war. This is a dilemma that must be resolved with haste. It is important for us to have a clear distinction of what is morally right and what is morally wrong here. Having said that, many times the line between what is right and wrong, morally, is blurred.

Bryan Caplan, a professor of economics at the University of Georgia, identifies himself as a pacifist in his article “The common-sense Case for Pacifism” and insist that there is a better way to settle a dispute than declaring war. Caplan defines pacifism as “the doctrine that disputes (especially between countries) should be settled without recourse to violence; the active opposition to such violence, especially the refusal to take part in military action.” (“Common-Sense”). In short, pacifism is the idea of opposing violence and war in order to promote the greatest amount of peace. It is also important to note that Caplan believes a pacifists is not only against war, and supports peace, but also “disagrees with war on principles.” This is his refined belief on what a pacifist individual actually is. Caplan argues that innocent civilian lives are often lost in the crossfire between combatants in war [even if they were not the targeted groups of people], [One of Caplan’s strong points against the justification of war.] Caplan also writes about three critical points that he calls “my common-sense case for pacifism.” First, Caplan writes that the cost of war is hefty. Many wars results in the loss of a substantial amount of human lives and wealth. Caplan reinforces his claim by writing, “if you use a standard value of life $5M, every 200,000 deaths is equivalent to a trillion dollars of damage.” Given this information, it is evident that the cost of war is quite often costly. Second the future benefits of war are unpredictable and lastly, for a war to be justified, its future gains must outweigh short-term expenditures. Caplan compelling writes that the only way war is justifiable is if the number of innocent lives saved greatly exceeds the number of innocent lives lost (greater than 5:1, specifically). Based on Caplan’s requirements to justify war, this is not likely to be the case.

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Jan Ting, a professor of law at Temple University, argues against Caplan in a heated discussion video, Debate: is war ever justified? Ting insists that war is justifiable and necessary under certain criteria, for instance, when there is an ideology or religion that justifies the killing of human beings in the name of that idea or religious belief (Is War Ever Justified?). In other words, if these beliefs and ideologies are persuasive enough to warrant the killing of innocent people, war may be an acceptable initiative. To support his claim, Ting uses World War II as an example of when military intervention is necessary to do away with evil ideologies and religious beliefs. He specifically uses ideologies like Nazism and Japanese imperialism, referring to them as “great evil.” Ting believes that it was necessary for the United States to get involved in World War II, not only to save the lives of innocent people targeted on the behalf of Nazism and Japanese imperialism, but also to vanquish “great evil.” Ting asserts this by writing, the United States did the right thing lending its military might for the struggle of human freedom.” He further emphasizes his position by also mentioning that a times “great evil” cannot be reasoned with thus justifying the act of war. To Ting, a simple ideology like pacifism does not suffice when confronting the decision of going to war. Meaning that, believing in an ideology may not be enough to evade war.

Pacifist or not, bot Ting and Caplan agree that war must be an absolute last resort in an attempt to find a solution to a conflict. Ting and Caplan also reach an understanding on a number of shared ethical truths, for instance the act of killing is universally inhumane. It is not pleasant for anyone to witness innocent lives being lost. Ting and Caplan both want to save the greatest amount of innocent lives, and liberate the innocent in times of despair. It is a matter of how to approach a conflict that prevents agreement and solutions. Be that as it may, the two also comply that the results of war are often unpredictable. This is where the bridge between opposing sides is firmly established.

It is evident that both demand a solution to conflicts that have the potential to increment violence. It is also in Ting and Caplan’s greatest interest to save innocent lives, liberate oppressed people and overall, turn to war as a last resort. I believe that a substitute position is reachable by taking both Ting and Caplan’s strong and weak points into consideration. What if we take certain steps of precaution before plunging into war, while not refuting the act entirely?

The first step is to effectively identify the cause of the conflict. This may create a clear picture of what is really occurring, and provide us with a primary goal. It is vital to understand and identify the cause of an injustice before making a critical decision to go to war. For instance, I will use an issue, Devin Dwyer, a digital correspondent for the white house, quotes president Barack Obama’s speech on the abc news website “If we discovered that [ISIS] had gotten possession of a nuclear weapon, and we had to run an operation to get it out of their hands, then, yes,’ the president told reporters at a news conference in Brisbane, Australia, on November 17, 2014. ‘I would order it.’” What president Obama meant by “order it” is that he would send American troops to the Middle East again to fight against ISIS, thus justifying his invasion (Dwyer). Will this reason really justify a full on war with ISIS? Do you see how important it is to know when war is just? Secondly, a discussion regarding only the causational problem should be held, while deemphasizing war as an option. This allows for a wide variety of options to be considered before reaching a concluding decision. Lastly, a final ultimatum should be discussed, presenting all the information obtained about the injustice and in relation to its context. Again, the final step to solve this solution must not emphasize war. I believe that by performing these steps, the greatest amount of lives, wealth, and time can be saved. As Edward Burke once said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” This quotation embodies the injustices we gave in our world today. Nonetheless, I believe that both Caplan and Ting are men capable of approaching this dilemma effectively. It is only the matter of how to solve these conflicts that causes disagreement between the two. We rid ourselves of dichotomous thinking, there is always a middle option to take. Overall, there are many objections they can both come to agreement about, and given their points of agreement, a solution is possible.

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